Military Monday: "Three other Ranks were killed"

There's a story which has been passed down through our family about how, on 8th September 1916, my great-grandfather, Henry James Weaver, died. During WWI, he was reportedly killed alongside two others by a bomb or hand grenade accidentally detonating in a soldier's hand while resting at the base in France after serving in the trenches.

My gran told me this a number of years ago. I've often wondered about the accurancy of the information because the details must have been second-hand; gran was orphaned before the age of 5.

Henry James Weaver's Memorial Plaque (Death Penny)</
Henry James Weaver's Memorial Plaque (Death Penny)

The family has two pieces of evidence to support the story, or at least the fact of it having been an accident. Firstly, a photograph issued by the War Office showing the original wooden cross and Henry's grave. The inscription on the cross mentions Henry was 'accidentally killed'. The second piece of evidence is a death notice in an old newspaper cutting which my gran kept for most of her life. Dated 1921, the notice is about gran's mother but it includes the following....

"...Pathos is added to this very sad case by the fact that Mrs. Weaver's husband, who was a private in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry during the war, was killed by a bomb at the base in France just after leaving the trenches for a brief respite..."

Of course, I wasn't sure if this was published on the basis of what the family had told the newspaper so I still needed further evidence.

A few days ago, I posted a message in the Great War Forum and another member very kindly responded. He had a copy of the war diary for the 2/1 Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckingham Light Infantry - Henry's battalion. The story bears out...





At noon a Bombing accident occurred, owing to the premature explosion of a Bomb. The Battn. Q.M. - LIEUT. D WALLER and the Bombing Officer 2/Lieut. A.J. SMEE 3rd WILTS, attached 2/1 BUCKS Bn. were both wounded. Three other Ranks were killed and 4 other Ranks were wounded.

9. - 10.


Five words, 'Three other Ranks were killed', makes for stark reading when you consider this phrase embodies the tragic news of the death of my great-grandfather.

What heartbreak for my great-grandmother, Florence. Married less than a year, she was heavily pregnant at the time. It's believed the news arrived around the time she gave birth to my gran, ten days after Henry's death, but that she wasn't told until my gran was ten days old. Apparently Florence was becoming increasingly anxious to know why she hadn't heard from Henry. It doesn't bear thinking about! No wonder Henry's headstone reads...


When Florence died of meningitis, my gran was left without parents. To add insult to injury, gran passed the necessary exams to qualify for the grammar school but, because she had no father, another girl was given her place. Times were certainly tough. Such missed opportunities!

Despite various set-backs, gran was the type of woman who rolled up her sleeves and got on with it. She was full of vitality and always offered hospitality. There was certainly no side to her. Perhaps her difficult start in life was what grounded her.

I've posted before about how gran always wanted to see her father's grave, something she finally did at the age of 83.

Incidentally, the Quartermaster who was wounded was a Daniel Waller, born in Great Chishill, Cambridgeshire. He survived the war and lived until 1950, aged 82.

The two other men who were killed with Henry were Lance-Sergeant AW Mead and Private JS Litchfield. The three of them are buried beside each other in Merville Communal Cemetery Extension in Merville, France.

Henry's name appears on the War Memorial in his home town of Curry Rivel, Somerset, and also in Tavistock, Devon, Florence's home town.

[Why Military Monday? This phrase has been included in the title in order to take part in Blogging Prompts at Geneabloggers]

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